Ethics watch | Arkansas Blog

Ethics watch

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Speaker Benny Petrus calls to say he got his ethics bill filed today. And he has already added an amendment to, as he promised, return the limit on campaign contributions to $1,000, from $2,000. That contribution limit is a good idea, given how many incumbent legislators run unopposed and use contributions as slush funds. An even better idea would be to end carryovers or make squeaky tight the rules to raise money after elections are over except for truly legitimate expenses. But there I go again, making the perfect the enemy of the good.

Read for yourself, The Sunshine in Government Act. It amends an initiated act, so I think that means it takes a two-thirds vote for passage.

Good points: It eliminates multiple contributions from different corporations with the same majority owner. (HUZZAH!) It stiffens conflict of interest provisions for state employees and family members doing business with public agencies. It requires more disclosure of lobbyist entertainment spending, including a specific report by a lobbyist of anything given to a politician, including meals and drinks of any value, not merely those in excess of $40. I'd prefer the cup of coffee rule, but this rule, if enforced, would be a worthwhile advance.

Bad points: It clearly legalizes use of campaign funds to give to the campaigns to others without it being construed as personal income. It's certainly a very personal benefit to be able to make such gifts. Also, I don't see that this bill clarifies questions about gifts to public officials. There's now some question about whether it's legal for lawmakers to take gifts of any size from anyone, just so long as it isn't in return for a specific act or merely on account of the office. I'd prefer a ban, or at least a lower limit, on gifts.

Petrus says he'll file some parts of the larger measure as separate bills so that all don't fall because of specific objections to some parts. The bill to prohibit post-legislative lobbying for a year has already passed the House and molders in the Senate, where a handful of greedheads aren't happy about having their already-planned lobbying careers delayed.

I take Petrus at face value here that his intentions are good. (I bring this up only because of the recent example of Sen. Shawn Womack, the unlikely Senate champion of the crackdown on payday lending. Once the Senate Insurance and Commerce Committee assassinated the bill, he stepped forward with face-saving legislation in behalf of the slimy shylocks of the check cashing industry. No deal, Rep. David Johnson rightly told him. You get the idea this was the plan all along on the Senate side.)


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